Covid 19 Omicron outbreak: Critical worker register could be two weeks away

It could be up to two weeks before the Critical Services Register is ready – prompting one business group to warn the Government is risking leaving the supply chain unprepared to face the growing Omicron outbreak.

The register is being set up by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment as part of the Government’s phased approach to the latest variant of Covid-19.

Workers on the register will be able to get tested and return to work faster. In phase two, asymptomatic contacts in critical workforces will be able to return a negative rapid antigen test in order to go to work.

People who work in healthcare, food supply and infrastructure are likely to be on the register.

But an email from MBIE sent out this week and forwarded to the Herald stated: “The Critical Services Register will be up and running within the next two weeks. Unfortunately, we cannot confirm any details at this stage.”

Asked why the register was not already ready to gom an MBIE spokesman said CovidResponse Ministers had just approved the creation of the Critical Services Register as part of the response to the establishment of the Omicron Covid variant in New Zealand.

“The register is being established to identify and record workers employed by critical services and provide a clear path for them to return to their vital work in the event they are identified as a contact of a person with Covid.

He could not give an exact timeframe on when it would be completed.

“Establishing a user friendly online service where employers can register their essential workers is a complex task.

“It is expected that all necessary work will be completed shortly.This means the register will be ready for when it is needed during phase two and phase three of the Omicron outbreak.”

There are already more than 90 cases of Omicron in the community.

On Wednesday, associate health minister Dr Ayesha Verrall said a 10-case outbreak could reach 1000 cases in six to 12 days.

Director general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said the Ministry of Health was working on the “worst case scenario” that the tipping point to move to phase two of the Omicron response could be in two weeks.

Simon Arcus, chief executive of the Wellington Chamber of Commerce, said over the past few days, businesses have had to scramble to get ready for Omicron.

“It’s unnecessarily tiring and taxing for businesses. Right now, the Government should be putting in place settings that make sense. Not only is the Critical Workers Register not yet been set up, it’s based on a flawed system.”

Arcus said businesses were urgently preparing for an Omicron outbreak, and need the certainty of knowing whether they are a critical industry or not.

“As we have seen with essential travel at the border, government agencies are a poor substitute for the on-the-ground knowledge that comes from running a business.”

Arcus said there should simply be criteria that define critical industries, that businesses themselves can apply.

“The register puts another layer of bureaucracy and uncertainty over an already fast moving situation, and one that businesses are already adapting to.

“If delays continue, we risk our supply chain being left unprepared, and workers’ applications remaining unprocessed as Omicron surges throughout the country.”

Asked what the hold-up was in setting up the register the MBIE spokesman said it was important to tailor a specific approach which was what was now being done.

“The exemptions for critical workers which the Critical Services Register will provide won’t be required untilphase two and phase three of the Omicron outbreak but it important that this work is done now, ahead of when the register will be needed.”

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